The Graduate Teaching Award is given out annually to the graduate student teaching assistant who best exemplifies the qualities of a college educator. One of this year’s recipients, April Daigle, is a PhD student in the Chemistry Department.
April Daigle is a 4th year PhD student in Joseph BelBruno’s chemistry lab. Her main research area is concerned with computational materials science, specifically how molecules interact with gold surfaces and the magnetic properties of nanoparticles.
While at Dartmouth, April was a recipient of a prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Fellowship in 2009, and the Walter H. Stockmayer Graduate Fellowship last year. In addition to such academic accolades, Daigle also served as a teaching assistant for the undergraduate courses Honors General Chemistry and Physical Chemistry.
Honors Chemistry is an introductory chemistry class that is traditionally comprised of freshman students each fall, while Physical Chemistry is an upper-level course usually taken by undergraduates in the latter half of their collegiate career. For Daigle, each class has its own unique perks and opportunities from a teaching standpoint.
“The freshman are new to Dartmouth, and are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed,” says Daigle. “For the most part, they haven’t found their academic ‘niche’ yet, and there’s lots of natural enthusiasm there.”
In the upper level courses, Daigle points out that most students, though diverse academically, are quite “science-orientated” by the time they enroll in Physical Chemistry. According to Daigle, this narrowed focus coupled with a smaller class size allows her to interact with these older students on a more intense, one-on-one basis.
“I love this sort of individualized mentorship, which is easier to do when the students know where they’re headed,” says Daigle. “However, I really enjoy working with both groups.”
In addition to her teaching schedule at Dartmouth, Daigle also tutored local middle-school students in science at the Montshire Museum, and participated in several programs through the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning (DCAL), Dartmouth’s resource for the professional development of its teachers. According to Daigle, her passion for teaching was actively encouraged by her advisor, Joseph BelBruno. No stranger to exemplary teaching himself, BelBruno is a recipient of the 2011 Faculty Mentoring Award through the Graduate Office.
Noting the tendency for some schools to prioritize laboratory research over interaction with undergraduates, Daigle pointed out that Dartmouth’s smaller size and focus on personal instruction greatly appealed to her. While not every school allows graduate students the opportunity to hone their teaching skills in the way that Dartmouth does, Daigle explains that the quality of the opportunities for PhD students at Dartmouth have allowed her not only to become a more skilled scientist, but also a better educator.
Post-graduation, Daigle plans to parlay her love of science and teaching into a career in academia. “I knew that I wanted to teach before coming to Dartmouth,” says Daigle. “I wanted to be in a graduate program where this desire would be encouraged and respected.”
by Erin E. O’Flaherty